Roleplayers are great at squeezing an MMORPG for all its worth, constantly striving to seek out new ways to enhance their game time. As a whole, they create means and methods of bringing a fresh look and feel into their games, and all us fellow roleplayers can often share in that, thereby allowing us to experience a different and inventive style of play in our own times. Besides a lack of imagination, there is little that can halt roleplayers in this endeavor.
Since we are dealing with computer-generated cyber worlds that are more than likely not our own creations, there are certainly roadblocks and speed bumps in these games that challenge roleplayers to improvise and adapt. These game mechanics come with the nature of the beast, and many are very necessary to the operation of the games, and are often so obvious as to threaten to pull a roleplayer out of character. While they may not be pleasant to experience during roleplay, their effect in-game can be at least lessened through the lens of imaginative roleplaying.
Life and Death
In a previous RoleCraft article (Who Wants To Live Forever?), I gave some tips and ideas on one of the most discussed game mechanic stumbling blocks, the lack of permanent death. There, I give mention to using some object or creature as an explanation for why characters never really die. I also point to the game mechanic currently employed in LotRO, where your character is merely defeated, not killed, having been overcome by so much dread that they lose the will to fight, if only for a short time.
Anarchy Online has another great way to deal with this game mechanic, and that is by having machines set up for use that download an almost complete duplicate of your character that you may return to and retrieve upon death. Transplanted into the fantasy realm of WoW, a crafty engineer could RP the creation of a like machine, or something that would fit into your personal inventory. This brings us back around to the use of another object to help insure you keep returning to you body once slain. A skilled magician could enchant a piece of jewelry for your character to wear, or a warlock could link your soul to a pet, combat or non-combat. Outside of using objects, you could undergo a crucial trial for Elune or a Naaru where they would grant you semi-permanent life. Really, it isn’t difficult to look and roleplay past the death game mechanic, if you just think about it.
Pets and Mounts
In the Forgotten Realms epoch of the great Dungeons & Dragons, there is a line of magical items called Figurines of Wondrous Power. These are usually small replicas of animals, carved from precious ivory or gems, or smithed from valuable metals, and imbued with powerful magic. With the proper spoken command or touch, these items transform into live creatures of natural size and ability according to the creature they are a replica of, and are under control of the figurine’s owner. Once summoned, the creatures are only able to stay in live form for a short time before having to return to replica form.
The items a character is able to receive in MMORPGs are very often displayed through the game mechanic as a small icon in a personal inventory slot. For matters of RP, that icon could be looked upon as a figurine, especially if it represents a mount or a pet. Simply touching it, uttering a special magic word, or rubbing it like the djinni’s magical lamp causes the creature to spring forth life-size for your bidding. In MMORPGs where you may, create a macro or link an emote to this action for more obvious RP value.
Logging in and Out
Many roleplayers do their very best to give their characters a life of their own. Of course, this “life” can only be affected and witnessed while the character is in play. What about when your character and you are logged out? If your character is following the most basic life tract of being a full-time adventurer, are they thought to be away on another adventure and simply out of contact while not in game? That’s certainly one possibility, but with the plethora of chat channels available, it kind of makes that notion seem implausible. Housing, inns and taverns, and even professions, are probably better ways to implement roleplaying where your character is and what it may be doing while not in game.
Obvious places where a character could find rest may be the first choices that come to mind, and rightly so. Inns are expected to have rooms for rent, and tavern keepers may be kind enough to allow you the use of a darkened corner while you sleep off having downed a few too many ales. Houses are especially nice for this, whether it’s your personal house, a guildhall, or an open abode that you are roleplaying as your very own. Even if you don’t or can’t own your own in-game house, you can still log in and out in a manner that seems appropriate. Simply find a house or doorway that the game doesn’t open, and log out in front of it. To any roleplayers who may be watching, it’ll look as if your character stepped into the house and out of sight, and likewise when that character logs back in.
Now, what about those characters who generally shun cities and populated places, preferring to spend their time in the wilds? No problem at all; just build a campfire and settle right there for the night. Or claim squatters’ rights over an abandoned campsite if you find one.
Consider those players who may be roleplaying an unsavory character and do not wish to be seen in a public inn. This brings into question another game mechanic, called rested XP, which is most prevalent in WoW. Rested XP builds up for your characters in WoW only when you log them out in one of the major cities or an inn. Personally, this is a game mechanic I totally ignore. You should log in and out wherever it is in your character’s best interest to do so.
Way back during the start of the MMORPG genre, in the early days of Ultima Online, roleplayers only had a couple of chat channels in the game to use. Therefore, all in game chat was done IC. To speak OOC, or to coordinate with another player not in the vicinity of your player, we used ICQ. In current MMORPGs, having to use a third-party IM client is no longer an issue, what with all the channels available in game. However, this game mechanic is a double-edged sword for many roleplayers who sometimes struggle with justifying their character’s ability to communicate with another character, sight unseen.
One of the neatest game items in UO are the communication crystals. When activated, these crystals allow the user to speak into them, and send that speech to another character with a linked crystal a great distance away. Yes, they have their drawbacks, but the concept remains solid up to today, especially for roleplayers. For example, every character in WoW has a hearthstone, which allows them to set a home inn they can magically teleport to. In RP fashion, this hearthstone may also be enchanted to allow for communication between characters near and far, and is a very common element brought into use among members of an RP guild.
Whispers and in game IMs are other game mechanic aspects I hear roleplayers rumbling about. How can someone who is leagues away from me “whisper” to me? Again, this is another game mechanic I ignore, meaning that I see it as what it is – a way for a player to contact me in game without having to download and have a third-party application take up valuable hard drive space to do so. To that end, that is why I am adamant about being IC on all other in game channels, and keeping whispers and “/tell” strictly for OOC chat. Of course, that is my choice only, the way I choose to RP. You should RP whispers in a way that feels comfortable to you.
Class and Profession
The last game mechanic I’ll address here is about how easy it is to see what every character’s class is in game. By default, a character’s class can be seen as text under their name hovering above their heads. Dude, talk about RP-unfriendly! Thankfully, this is usually a setting you can alter in the game interface options, but it doesn’t remove it completely, as is evidenced when hovering your mouse cursor over a character and still seeing their class.
For roleplayers, the RP ways around this are to manipulate it with an addon, constantly proclaim your own version in conversation, or just ignore it. LotRO has done an excellent job with this with their inclusion of a vast number of titles to earn, through increasing their character’s skill in their class, vocation, Deeds, and by allowing characters to add a surname if they wish upon reaching level 15. WoW roleplayers make avid use of addons, like FlagRSP2 and MyRoleplay, to add in class and profession titles, nicknames, house and clan names, and surnames.
I feel it best to just have your character introduce itself as they want to be known. That way, it’s done in a solid RP style, and there should be no mistaking it. This method can also be changed on the fly, much quicker than it can be through an addon or interface option, if the character so wishes it.
Roleplaying your way beyond these game mechanics will still require a small amount of suspension of belief, where the player has to keep in mind that this is just a game. I certainly do my best to immerse myself as fully as possible into the RP experience, but there is still only so far that I can go, since the game isn’t taking place inside my own head. That is one reason why imagination is such a vital part of RP. Expand your imagination as far as you wish into your game time, and just let everything else be. Whatever else it is, it’s a game, first and foremost, and games are meant to be fun. Do what you can to make them so, and role on!